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Bubba Ho-tep (2002)

The King of Rock vs. The King of the Dead

Directed by:

Don Coscarelli

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 92 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

In the Shady Rest Convalescence Home in Mud Creek, Texas, people are dying. No mystery there, you might think, as this is the final resting place for the aged, the infirm and the demented – yet an elderly patient (Bruce Campbell) with a cancerous ‘pecker’ who claims to be none other than Elvis Presley masquerading as Elvis-impersonator Sebastian Haff (or is it the other way round?), becomes convinced by the strange, scarab-like bugs that keep appearing everywhere and by the hieroglyphic graffiti in the toilet that there is something more sinister at work. So he joins forces with another resident (Ossie Davis), who, despite being African-American, claims to be John F. Kennedy (“they dyed me this colour, all over – can you think of a better way to hide the truth than that?”) – and once Elvis has managed to persuade him that the shadowy killer is neither Castro nor Lyndon B. Johnson, together the two muddle-headed, forgotten American icons rediscover their mojo and take one last stand against an Egyptian mummy feeding on the very lifeforce of the Shady Rest inmates (“your soul-suckin’ days are over, amigo”).

‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ has everything going for it. A fantastically deranged premise (based on a short story by Joe Lansdale). A proven horror director (and writer) in Don Coscarelli, rightly famous for the ‘Phantasm’ films (whose star, Reggie Bannister, has a cameo here as the rest home’s administrator). And of course Bruce Campbell, who as the long-suffering Ash in Sam Raimi’s ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy has written the book on horror comedy performances – and who near the end of the last ‘Evil Dead’ film was already showing a talent for Elvis impersonation rivalled only by Nicolas Cage. The central concept of ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ is hilariously unhinged, even if, once it has been unwrapped, the humour underneath seems a little thin, consisting in little more than some Elvis mannerisms and erection jokes, and the comic spectacle of two madmen entering battle supported respectively by a motorised wheelchair and a walking frame.

Funny as it is, however, to watch Elvis’ struggles with both Ho-Tep and reality, he cuts a far more desolate and depressed figure than your average comic hero, and his weary narration, full of regrets and mournful nostalgia (“How could I have gone from the king of rock n’ roll to this?”, “Twenty years ago I could have had her eating out of my asshole”, “If only I’d have treated Priscilla right, told my daughter I loved her”, etc.), lends all the absurd proceedings a bitter, if gently bitter, edge. For the true horror here, far from being some middle-eastern revenant in a cowboy hat, is the indignity of disease, the anonymity of old age, and the inevitability of death, and the only way to transcend them is to remain true to one’s own legend till the very last breath. This, in the end, is what really makes ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ stick in the mind – although ‘JFK’ explaining to Elvis why Ho-Tep should have spent time in the rest home’s toilets (“he’s just like anyone else when it comes to takin’ a dump – he just wants a nice clean place with a flush”) comes a close second.

It's Got: Elvis, JFK, and an Egyptian mummy at war in an old people’s home in Texas – ’nuff said.

It Needs: To be a little less thin.

DVD Extras Disk One: widescreen version; excellent 3-D animated menus; scene selection; choice of 2.0/5.1/dts; optional SDH; two-minute hammy intro by star Bruce Campbell (Easter egg); full audio commentary by Campbell and screenwriter/director Don Coscarelli, revealing that they could not afford to use any actual Elvis songs or movie clips, that Elvis really did have a black belt in karate, and that the main character first gets out of bed some 25 minutes into the film - while Campbell poses the perennial question “how often can you have cancer on your penis?”; a hilarious second full audio commentary (Easter egg) by Campbell in character as ‘the King’, in which he objects to all the film’s cursing, fast editing, toilet humour (“we never had to use urine”), sexual references, “makin’ fun of dead bodies”, treating women with disrespect, the fact that “there’s no hero...there’s no girl”, as well as the quality of Campbell’s Elvis impersonation - then expresses bizarre admiration for Coscarelli’s earlier ‘Phantasm’ (“that silver ball picture”), gives a recipe for peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and sings some new songs (badly). Priceless. Disk Two: Two minutes of raw footage from the Egyptian temple flashback, and three deleted scenes (with optional commentary from Coscarelli and Campbell), one of which includes some of the original third-person voice-over; author Joe R. Lansdale reading the opening of the original short story (7min); behind-the-scenes featurette (46min) featuring interviews with cast and crew, divided into ‘The Making of Bubba Ho-Tep’, ‘To Make a Mummy’ (on make-up/effects), ‘Fit for a King’ (on costumes) and ‘Rock Like an Egyptian’ (on the music); ‘The King and I: an In-depth Excavation with Don Coscarelli’ (20min) interview about the short story, Campbell, losing the third-person narrator and the possibility of a sequel; UK Premiere Q&A with Coscarelli (10min), including a brief endorsement from Edgar Wright, writer of ‘Shaun of the Dead’; ‘Bruce Talks Bubba’ (11min) interview with Campbell on “the weirdest script ever written”, the fun of motorised wheelchairs, and his hope that the sequel will feature a younger Elvis; biographies of Campbell, Coscarelli and Ossie Davis; trailer; stills gallery; music video. Version reviewed: Anchor Bay two-disk Special Collector’s Edition, other editions available fromAmazon.com DVD Extras Rating: 9/10

Alternatives:

'Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn', 'Evil Dead 3: Army Of Darkness', 'Mystery Men', The Mummy

Summary

Put a former president, the king of rock n’ roll, and an ancient soul-sucker all under one roof, and things are bound to get interesting – just not quite interesting enough in this horror comedy with a melancholic edge.

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